destruction of burnt church

James Murray Soldier and Governor
Murray, James (courtesy National Portrait Gallery) Portrait du général James Murray par un artiste inconnu, vers 1770-1780, huile sur toile.

Destruction of Burnt Church

From Historical – Geographical Documents Relating to New Brunswick Edited by W. F. Ganong

Excerpt from Pages 301 to 307

The Official Account of the Destruction of Burnt Church

“… I have long sought the original official account of the burning of the church, and at length have found it in the document which follows.  It is contained in the Public Record Office in London, where it is classified officially as C. O. 5, Vol. 53, (formerly A. W. 1, Vol.79).  The copy has been made for me with care by an expert direct from the original, and is here printed exactly to a letter.

The facts are, that in 1758, as a part of the campaign against the French in Canada, an effort was made by the British to destroy all the French settlements around the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  In pursuance of this plan General Wolfe sent Colonel Murray to destroy the settlements at Miramichi, and it is Colonel Murray’s report of his operations which is here presented.”

Louisbourg 24th. September 1758.


I have the Honor to acquaint you that all the Fleet, (except the small sloop which parted from Us at Sea and did not join Us till we were on our return to Louisbourg,) made Miramichi Bay the 15th instant, and came to an Anchor in an open Road, seven Leagues from the Settlement and three from the Barr, exposed 16 Points of the Compass; Capt. Vaughan expressed much Uneasiness at the Situation of the Ships, but as the Weather was moderate and promised to continue so for some time, he eagerly embraced the Opportunity and agreed with me, that we should immediately with the Artillery Sloop and the Boats of the Fleet proceed up the River and attack the Settlement, representing to me the necessity of returning quickly, as the Ships in the Situation they were in, without Boats or Men, could not possibly escape being lost, should the Gales of Wind blow, which are naturally to be expected at this Season of the Year; As we had this morning chased a Privatier into the River which in Company with a Sloop we saw fire several Guns, I mounted the two Six Pounders in our Sloop and contrived to embark Three Hundred Men in her and the Boats, there is but Six Feet Water on the Barr at low Water; We were therefore obliged to wait a little this side of it till the Tide rose by which means it was dark before we could get over it, we struck upon it but got safe within Muskett Shott of the Settlement about 12 at Night, Joseph the Indian being our Pilot, we landed and found all the Inhabitants, (except the King’s Surgeon and Family) had desert’d it, this man told me, that the Inhabitants consist of the neutral French who fled from Nova Scotia, that they expected no Quarter from Us and had therefore run away, that le Pere Bonavanture was with them, their Number about Forty, that there are several Habitations dispersed all over the Bay, for many Leagues both above and below where we were, That many Indians inhabit this Bay, but chiefly about where we were and below, That they lived sometimes in one place sometimes in another, having no fixed residence till the Winter, That on the other side the Bay there was a Settlement of about Thirty Family’s Three Leagues from Us, to destroy which I immediately detached a Party, that Ten Leagues up the River there was another Settlement very considerable of Neutrals, and some Family’s who had fled from the Island of St. John’s since the taking of Louisbourg, that the whole were in a starving Condition, had sent away most part of their Effects to Canada, and were all to follow immediately as they every Hour expected the English, and besides could not subsist, since they could not now be supported by Sea as they formerly were before Louisbourg was taken, that the Inducement for settling in that River was the Furr Trade, which is very considerable, no less than Six Vessels having been loaded there with that Commodity this Summer, That Monsr. Boisbert commands the whole as well as the Settlement on St. John’s River, That he is at present with his Company at Fort George, against which he is to act in Conjunction with a Detachment from Montcalm’s Army and is no more to return to Miramichi, which is abandoned for the reasons already given, That the two Vessels we had seen, were, one a Privatier mounting Six Carriage Guns, the other a Sloop which had an Officer and Twenty Five Men on board for Canada, they had escaped from Great Britain, but being chased by one of our Frigates off Gaspee, I suppose the Kennington, were now to make the best of their way inland to Canada, here being a Communication from the head of the Miramichi River to Quebeck by Rivers and Lakes a few Portages excepted, He added that the Passage up the River to the Settlement Ten Leagues up, was very narrow but water enough for the Sloop; As the Weather was still fair and promising, I immediately, upon this Consideration, wrote to Capt. Vaughan for some Guns to mount upon the Sloop (as I found our Six Pound field Pieces would not work in her) and some more Provisions, that I might proceed up the River to destroy everything in it, but he sent me the enclosed Letters one after the other, I likewise took care to have Capt. Bickerton consulted about the Situation of the Fleet, who declared he could not Sleep while it continued where it was; I therefore in the Evening of the 17th in Obedience to your Instructions embarked the Troops, having two Days hunted all around Us for the Indians and Acadians to no purpose, we however destroyed their Provisions, Wigwams and Houses, the Church which was a very handsome one built with Stone, did not escape. We took Numbers of Cattle, Hogs and Sheep, and Three Hogsheads of Beaver Skins, and I am persuaded there is not now a French Man in the River Miramichi, and it will be our fault if they are ever allowed to settle there again, as it will always be in the Power of two or three Armed vessels capable of going over the Barr, to render them miserable should they attempt it. I thought it was a pity that the two Vessels I have mentioned should escape Us, and therefore proposed to the Sea Commanders to go up with the Sloop manned with Soldiers to attack her and desired some Six Pounders, but they declared she was not in a Condition to carry any, and was otherwise very improper for such an Enterprize; If this could have been done the Fleet might have proceeded to Sea, out of the Danger it was exposed to, by lying in the open Road. We are now returned to Louisbourg in the same Situation we left you at Gaspee; I am etc.

                          Signature:   J. A. Murray

To Brigadier Genl. Wolfe.
a true Copy
Jam: Wolfe
endorsed: Copy of Colonel Murray’s Report.
In Brig. Genl. Wolfes of Nov. 1st. 1758.

It is thus proven that Burnt Church was destroyed by Colonel Murray in 1758, acting under orders from General Wolfe, as part of a plan of military operations. The account by Cooney, contained in his History of Northern New Brunswick and the District of Gaspe, 1832, and widely accepted locally, is erroneous in almost every particular. Cooney says (page 35), that after the conquest of Quebec a vessel containing the remains of General Wolfe and carrying despatches, was driven by stress of weather or other adverse circumstances into Miramichi, where the captain resolved to replenish his stock of water, and despatched six men for the purpose. They proceeded to Henderson’s Cove, … and having loaded their boat were rambling about when they were surprised and murdered, with refined tortures, by the Indians, supposed to be assisted by the French. In retaliation the Captain proceeded up the river, destroyed all the French settlements there, and on his way out to sea burnt the Chapel at Neguac, thus originating the name Burnt Church. … It is perhaps not worth while to discuss Cooney’s account … But we may point out the utter improbability of a vessel bound from Quebec to England on an important mission putting into Miramichi, a place far out of her course, and supposed at that time to be highly dangerous for navigation, as our document incidentally shows. Moreover, … it is known that General Wolfe’s remains were taken to England on a man of war, the Royal William, obviously a vessel quite unadapted to the navigation of the Miramichi. We may note, as well, the improbability of so great an ascent of the river for a water supply. In one other minor feature Cooney’s account must also be wrong, viz., the Acadian Indians did not torture prisoners. … I believe that Cooney has recorded a tradition which had really linked together two separate events. … we know that in the year 1690, two English privateers from New York pillaged the French settlements at Port Royal, and elsewhere in Acadia, and destroyed utterly the French establishment at Gaspe, as fully discussed in the Champlain Society’s Edition of Father le Clerq’s New Relation of Gaspesia, 68; and there is every probability, sustained by some little clues of evidence, given in that work, that they also pillaged and destroyed the establishment which Richard Denys de Fronsac had previous to that time maintained near Beaubears Island. … Taking everything together it would seem probable that half a dozen men from one of these privateers were ambushed and killed by Indians and French at some stream on the Miramichi, perhaps the Bartibog, while the vessels were working their way up the river: and that later these privateers kept on to the settlement of Denys de Fronsac, north of Beaubears Island, where they burnt his establishment, including the chapel which he would certainly have had at his fort. Then in time tradition confused this event with Colonel Murray’s expedition, finally uniting them into one incident in the way recorded in Cooney.”

From The Heart of Gaspe by John Mason Clarke

Excerpt from Pages 142 and 143

“.. When Louisbourg surrendered in July, 1758, it was only after stubborn resistance and it had become too late in the season to carry out the plans for the intended advance of the fleet upon Quebec. General Amherst … despatched orders to the remaining troops, and Admiral Boscawen to the squadron, to spend the rest of the season in cruising along the French coast as far as Gaspe, in order to despoil the fishing villages. Colonel Wolfe, as he was at Louisbourg, Brigadier General Wolfe as designated in these orders was to command the troops with Sir Charles Hardy as Admiral of the fleet. It was not a dignified undertaking. But it had taken England so long to set her fleet free from European waters to pursue the drama in America that some such necessary byplay was necessary to keep the ships from getting back to the other side while the critical moment in the great maritime war was impending. The plan would serve in a measure too, to forestall any purpose of the French to strengthen the portals of the St. John River. ‘Sir Charles Hardy and I’, Wolfe wrote to his father, ‘are preparing to rob the fishermen of their nets and burn their huts. When that great exploit is at end I return to Louisbourg and thence to England’.”

Excerpt from Pages 146 to 148

“… The ‘surrender of Gaspe to the English’ dates from September 5, 1758. … General Murray – afterward to be whipped on the Plains of Abraham by General Levis and even so to become Canada’s first English governor – was in the meantime despatched to the mouth of the Miramichi River with orders to destroy the French settlement there and according to his own report, he did this effectively, though Bougainville, writing with contemporary knowledge, says he didn’t – that the settlers blocked his passage to the river and that the English left without doing any damage. Miramichi and its ‘battle’ are the subject of one of Smyth’s sketches and this shows the church and religious establishment standing on the south bank of the river; the present site, Dr. Ganong says of the village of Burnt Church, which he believes embodies in its name the assault made by Murray’s soldiers. A part of he fleet was also sent by Wolfe to destroy the religious establishment at Mont-Louis on the south shore of the St. Lawrence.”

From The Miramichi by Esther Clark Wright

Excerpt from Page 17

“… in spite of Murray’s assurance that there was ‘not now a French Man in the River Miramichi’, many of the Acadians remained. Murray’s theory seems to have been that since he and his men did not see the Acadians, therefore they were not there, and since he had destroyed the two settlements of Burnt Church and Bay du Vin, therefore they would not return.”

From The Life and Letters of James Wolfe by Beckles Willson

Excerpt from Page 396

“… To his father – Louisbourg, 21st August, 1758

Dear Sir, – I write by all the ship that go.  Sir Charles Hardy and I are preparing to rob the fishermen of their nets and to burn their huts.  When the great exploit is at an end (which we reckon will be a month’s or five weeks’ work) I return to Louisbourg, and from thence to England, if no orders arrive in the meantime that oblige me to stay.  The fleet do not go up the River St. Lawrence, nor southward to the West Indies, so that of necessity they must get away from hence before the bad weather sets in, leaving I suppose, a few ships in the Harbour of Halifax, where they may winter very commodiously.  The army is about to disperse.  General Amherst carries six battalions to the continent; Mankton takes two up the Bay of Fundy; and I have the honour to command three in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to distress the enemy’s fishery, and to alarm them. We are very earnest to hear what has been doing in Europe, or whether anything has been done at all by us.

I am, dear Sir, etc.,


From Life of General the Honourable James Murray by R. H. Mahon

Excerpt from Page 70

“… In order to employ Wolfe as well as to make a strong demonstration at the mouth of St. Lawrence, a strong detachment, consisting of the 15th, 16th and 58th were sent under convoy of a fleet which left Louisbourg August 28 under Sir Charles Hardy, to Gaspe, with orders to ascend the St. Lawrence and lay waste the bordering villages. Murray accompanied the force, and after visiting Gaspe with Wolfe, was detached with 800 men to Miramichi Bay, where the settlements were destroyed, and from whence he returned to Louisbourg on September 24th. The whole of the proceeding can hardly be called one of importance or even of military necessity, for the only destruction effected was that of fishing villages; and having in view the greater operations pending, it was neither necessary nor even desirable to attack a region so far removed from the true objective, though a mere reconnaissance might be justified. Note: Quite possibly this was the intention, though it is not stated. Montcalm considered Gaspe a more important port than Louisbourg. ‘C’est la porte du Canada; sa position est infiniment preferable a celle de Louisbourg’.”

Translation by Mary Lynn Smith ‘This is the doorway of Canada, its position is infinitely preferable to that of Louisbourg’.

From Century of Conflict by Jos. Lister Rutledge

Excerpt from Page 484

“… Wolfe received orders to destroy settlements on the Gulf of St. Lawrence … About all that had been accomplished was the destruction of the homes of many innocent people facing the approach of a rigid winter and large stores of food that would be urgently needed.  It seems beyond question that no reputation had been enhanced.”

From Gaspe Land of History and Romance by Blodwen Davies

Excerpt from Pages 97 to 99

“… Wolfe liked the great Bay of Gaspe … After the reek of crowded transports, the wretched business of destruction at Louisbourg, the smoke of battle and the spilling of blood, Wolfe found in the peace of Gaspe a cleansing quality that appealed to him.  There were fifteen hundred men under his command and a host of officers, so after he had delegated the unwelcome duty of destruction to them, he moved ashore, took up his residence in the Intendant’s stone house and set out to enjoy a month of hunting and fishing and an outdoor holiday.  It was a happy interlude in his tragic life … Out there in the Bay, at anchor near Sandy Beach lay his funeral ship – the Royal William.  In a year’s time she would be bearing past Gaspe again, with the young general, wrapped in his military cape, lying dead between her decks with the conquest of Quebec to crown his memory with renown.  One by one the destroying ships came back to Gaspe to report to the young general in the Intendant’s house.  Mount Louis had been burned … Grande Riviere is an ash heap.  Sixty houses and eight fishing boats have been destroyed.  Colonel James Murray went farther afield to Miramichi.  He was a mere youngster of fifty-four at this time.  Years later he married, had his first son at seventy-eight and lived to be ninety.  When Wolfe, his friend and commanding officer, died on the Plains of Abraham, Murray took command and became the first British Governor of Quebec.  At last even the leisurely robbing of fishermen of their nets and burning of little homes was done.  The fifteen hundred soldiers were back aboard their transports. Wolfe had taken reluctant leave of his Gaspe home.  The prisoners were all stowed away for their journey to France … Trivial though this work of destruction seemed, it had more significance than appeared on the surface.  The loss of the Gulf fisheries was a great blow at French power and prestige … To utterly destroy the fishing villages was a taunt to France that her power was waning and to cut off her supply of fish for fish days was to bring home to every Frenchman the implications of the war.  So Wolfe’s stay at Peninsule was not without its importance in international affairs … the shelter of Monsieur Revolte’s stone manor house was a last kindly gesture of the gods of war, for he hated ships and sea voyages, even though all his fame was to rise out of expeditions that carried him across the seas to glory and death.”

From The Burnt Church Relic by Louise Manny Published in The Maritime Advocate.

” . . .  The foregoing account contains all that I can discover at present about Relic and its container.  Madame Paul made several brave attempts to add to my stock of information and her remarks follow”:

“. . . the Church at Burnt Church is fourth built there – two before Miramichi Fire and two since – not in exactly the same spot.  At time of Miramichi Fire Indians took Relic into Church – all Indians went inside and locked door, fire came rolling over and down to them, and shot to this side, and to that side, away from Church, and did not burn Church.  My old man’s mother was young married woman at time of Fire and often told him about it.  Priest came and lived with Indians and learnt their language.  Every Indian in Burnt Church knows where old Churches were.  Old Church was built with great big timbers hewn by Indians.  Long ago some sailors landed here – before Miramichi Fire – and when Indians saw them coming they ran away to woods.  Sailors saw wigwams all empty, and they put some spruce boughs and things that would burn into Church and burnt it.  Relic was always thought by Indians to have miraculous healing powers.”

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